Sunday, 12 July 2009

Workplace Parking Levy

There has been a great deal of debate on this issue during the past week and it prompted me to go and have a look at the proposals in Nottingham before deciding whether to add my name to a petition to have the idea stopped in its tracks (if such a thing were possible!)

There is, as there always is in matters such as this, a great deal of emotive language being employed by the detractors and I wanted to see if they were right in their assertions. Such phrases as 'stealth tax on firms' have been bandied about. Immediately I knew something was up, because clearly a local authority who says in brightly coloured leaflets that "we are going to charge ever increasing amounts of money for those car parking spaces that you have at the back of your premises until it reaches a zenith in charge terms in 2015" is not doing anything that might be regarded as stealthy - it is up-front and quite in-your-face. So clearly the headlines were inaccurate, but then I'm not surprised since they so often are!

Looking at the facts, it becomes more apparent that here is a local authority who intends to make full use of legislation to bolster their income and, ostensibly at least, to enhance their green credentials. So are they wrong and who will this hit?

Without doing a formal study it would be impossible to come to absolute conclusions; indeed just reading the publicity material and the reaction from employers' organisations it would be impossible to gauge the actual impacts that may occur - what I predict however, is that whatever either side of the argument are saying there will be good and reasonable arguments for and against and there will certainly be unintended consequences that quite possibly someone in council circles has already realised but has not bothered mentioning in the blurb!

From the perspective of Nottingham City Council I can see no fault in having an ambition to reduce the congestion in the city, to make better use of the public transport system (PTS) into which they have so heavily invested with success, or to find new ways of legitimately raising ring-fenced funds for improving public transport still further. I would criticise them if they had not already established a good track record in PTS in the city and I would be extremely vocal if it transpired that the funds were not then ring-fenced but were used by a change in political leadership for subsidising general funds or other areas of the City's expenditure - but let's give the city council the benefit of the doubt at the start. So what about the vexed problems of exemptions, of establishing the number of spaces and the monitoring of the whole scheme?

These are areas in which I believe the city council is very brave to venture in - for a start I would want to know how they intend to deal with their own staff car parking? Is there a council that does not offer car parking space to a large number of staff who DO NOT need their cars for use on council business? There are literally hundreds of teachers who arrive at school each day and their cars sit on the former playground before being used to go home again in the evening - will the school budgets be hit by the WPL, and if so have the school managers and governors been warned to make provision in their budgets? There are also literally hundreds of non-eesential car users in civic offices - will the city council be charging itself for these spaces? Then there is the central government civil servants in Job Centres, Tax Offcies etc - will Westminster be paying the levy to Nottingham.

Itwill be interesting to see the exemptions applied - I note that NHS premises will be exempted, surely this cannot be right? I agree that a doctor on call, a visiting nurse or midwife, an ambulance or even an ambulance car driven by a volunteer should be exempted - quite right too, but there are dentists who do not use their cars except for commuting, the admin staff, should these be exempted, I can see no reason for it. So that will be a real hard one to tackle. What about undertakers - they have a real problem too, will the hearses and limousines be exempted, or at least their parking spaces? If not, what happens when the staff use the spaces when the hearse is not present? It says in the NCC leaflet to businesses that the emergency services will be exempted - again I'd ask why?
There is a small Police station near me where a fair number of support staff, permanently based on the premises arrive in their cars and park throughout their shifts - why should the spaces that they occupy be exempt, indeed in most areas officers can travel free on public transport and in consequence help with the policing of those very services, so they would have no need for the spaces anyway. I can understand exempting spaces for marked vehicles, and for those being used by plain clothes officers during their working day - but for the so-called 'civilian' staff who man the front desk or carry out other functions (with the possible exception of those whose shifts are in the middle of the night , but then that would apply equally to plumbers, printers, underground train drivers etc) - surely the space that they occupy needs to be charged.

It will be interesting to seek information under the Freedom of Information Act when this scheme has been up and running for a while to see how much the Council does collect from governmental departments, whether local or national. Just as it will be interesting to see how the council intend to accurately establish how many parking spaces are to be levied. Surely those spaces outside the Managing Directors' office are for the customers? Those cars belong to shoppers - they'll be somewhere arounds town! Is this where the council has to employ more investigators and CCTV cameras to spy on the business population to see whether they are cheating?

Any self-respecting business is going to blank out the car parking bays and leave it to chance - so how is the city council going to deal with that?

Oh yes, this is a story to watch; it is essentially a perfectly laudable idea - but then so was the originally envisaged Poll Tax and we all know what happened then!

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